Posts tagged ‘advertising’


Google collects more enemies—we haven’t been critical enough of it

05.09.2017

My complaints about Google over the years—and the battles I’ve had with them between 2009 and 2014—are a matter of record on this blog. It appears that Google has been making enemies who are much more important than me, and in this blog post I don’t mean the European Union, who found that the big G had been abusing its monopoly powers by giving its own properties priority placement in its own search results. (The EU, incidentally, had the balls to fine Google €2,420 million, or 2·5 per cent of Google’s revenues, unlike various US states’ attorneys-general a few years ago, who hit them with a $17 million bill, or four hours’ income for Google.)
   It’s Jon von Tetzchner, the co-founder and CEO of Vivaldi, who blogged on Monday how Google hasn’t been able to ‘resist the misuse of power.’
   Von Tetzchner was formerly at Opera, so he has had a lot of time in the tech world. Opera has been around longer than Google, and it was the first browser to incorporate Google search.
   As you’ve read over the years, I’ve reported on Google’s privacy breaches, its false accusations of malware on our sites, its favouring big sites over little ones in News, and (second-hand) the hacking of Iphones to gather user data. Google tax-dodging, meanwhile, has been reported elsewhere.
   It appears Google suspended Vivaldi’s Adwords campaigns without warning, and the timing is very suspicious.
   Right after von Tetzchner’s thoughts on Google’s data-gathering were published in Wired, all of Vivaldi’s Google Adwords campaigns were suspended, and Google’s explanations were vague, unreasonable and contradictory.
   Recently there were also revelations that Google had pressured a think-tank to fire someone critical of the company, according to The New York Times. Barry Lynn, ousted from the New America Foundation for praising the EU’s fine, accused the Foundation for placing Google’s money (it donates millions) ahead of its own integrity. Google denies the charge. He’s since set up Citizens Against Monopoly.
   It’s taken over half a decade for certain quarters to wake up to some of the things I’ve been warning people about. Not that long ago, the press was still praising Google Plus as a Facebook-killer, something I noted from the beginning would be a bad idea. It seems the EU’s courage in fining Google has been the turning point in forcing some to open their eyes. Until then, people were all too willing to drink the Google Kool-Aid.
   And we should be aware of what powerful companies like Google are doing.
   Two decades ago, my colleague Wally Olins wrote Trading Identities: Why Countries and Companies Are Taking on Each Other’s Roles. There, he noted that corporations were adopting behaviours of nations and vice versa. Companies needed to get more involved in social responsibility as they became more powerful. We are in an era where there are powerful companies that exert massive influences over our lives, yet they are so dominant that they don’t really care whether they are seen as a caring player or not. Google clearly doesn’t in its pettiness over allegedly targeting Vivaldi, and Facebook doesn’t as it gathers data and falsely accuses its own users of having malware on their machines.
   On September 1, my colleague Euan Semple wrote, ‘As tools and services provided by companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon become key parts of the infrastructure of our lives they, and their respective Chief Executives, exert increasing influence on society.
   ‘How we see ourselves individually and collectively is shaped by their products. Our ability to do things is in our hands but their control. How we educate ourselves and understand the world is steered by them. How we stay healthy, get from one place to another, and even feed and clothe ourselves is each day more dependent on them.
   ‘We used to rely on our governments to ensure the provision of these critical aspects of our lives. Our governments are out of their depth and floundering.
   ‘Are we transitioning from the nation state to some other way of maintaining and supporting our societies? How do we feel about this? Is it inevitable? Could we stop it even if we wanted?’
   The last paragraph takes us beyond the scope of this blog post, but we should be as critical of these companies as we are of our (and others’) governments, and, the European Commission excepting, I don’t think we’re taking their actions quite seriously enough.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, social responsibility, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


All I really know is who I won’t vote for

29.08.2017

One thing I love about New Zealand is that we’re not mired in an election cycle years before the event. We’re three weeks or so out from our General Election, and only now am I feeling things are heating up.
   It’s not that we haven’t had drama. Weeks ago, Metiria Turei was co-leader of the Greens, Andrew Little led Labour, and Peter Dunne was aiming for another term as MP for Ōhāriu and leader of United Future. None of these hold true in late August.
   What is unusual is that I’m undecided because of all these late changes, and we’re still learning about policies in some cases—I remember getting my manifesto out six months before an election, and the uncertainty here isn’t helping. The billboards have done nothing to sway me one way or another. Policy-wise, I have some things in common with each of the parties, excepting ACT, though probably like most New Zealanders, I haven’t had a chance to visit all the parties’ websites yet, though I will in the next few weeks. Various websites helping people decide based on stated policy actually give very different answers: On the Fence suggests I am both a National and Labour supporter (I often kid and say the parties are the same, just plus or minus 10 per cent); yet taken earlier, it said United Future and Māori Party were the top two with the most in common with me. Vote Compass gives Green and Mana. The websites, then, are no help, because they base their answers on selected issues, and apparently I’m both right- and left-wing.
   Twitter is comparatively quiet in 2017, giving fewer clues about how candidates are thinking, and I hardly look at my Facebook (for obvious reasons). I have spied some of the TVCs, where Labour has done an excellent job, and (last I looked) National has uploaded only one to its YouTube channel, so I can’t even see the first one that has been on telly. A lack of coordination between online and traditional media worries me.
   It’s an odd mix, none of whom really stand out.
   The incumbent National Party currently has an unimaginative TVC that is an adaptation of the rowers of 2014, and it only serves to highlight that, after three terms, they are out of touch. Say what you will about the former PM, the Rt Hon John Key, he had a pretty keen sense of the electorate. Not so this National Party, where the Deputy PM gave this quote:

   I see my friend Andy Boreham suggests ‘Minster’ is a misspelling of ‘Monster’, but such a point makes a mockery of New Zealanders’ belief (even if it does not hold true with growing inequality) that being Deputy PM is no greater a duty or more important a job than being a union leader. Some might have voted for National before on the premise that John Key is rich (I’m sure that worked for Trump, too), but, as we know, they aren’t going to return the favour of a vote by giving up a share of their wealth with you. PM Bill English, whom I first met while he was Treasurer in 1999, is an intelligent man with a sense of humour that doesn’t come across on television, and that won’t hold him in good stead this time out. Pity: there are many National MPs I like (e.g. Paul Foster-Bell, Simon O’Connor). The Nats’ 2002 campaign with Bill as leader was a disaster: I saw no outdoor advertising when I came back from Europe. This time there’s a lot of outdoor, but none of it says anything to me, other than National has spent some money licensing new fonts. I should note that no one has won an election for a long, long time in this country using a typeface that has a single-storey lowercase a.
   Labour has staged a turnaround like no other, one where leader Jacinda Ardern is neck in neck with the PM on one preferred prime minister poll. I had dismissed Labour earlier on as a party with unhealable divisions, but the speed at which Ardern and her party have pulled together an overhauled campaign is to be commended. I’ve never voted Labour before, and I’m still not convinced that the divisions are gone, but I will say this of Ardern, just as I once did of myself when I stood for office in my 30s: if we screw it up, we have a lot, lot longer to live with the consequences. She will take this seriously. She has had more parliamentary experience at this point than Key when he first got to the PM’s office, and former PM Helen Clark has endorsed her. Rose-coloured glasses about the Clark administration will help, even if I was critical of certain aspects of it back then. Post-Little, Labour could get more Chinese New Zealanders voting for them, too, after an earlier screw-up with a real estate agent’s list that was handled horribly. Chinese NZers have long memories, and some labelled the gaffe racist. Ardern is a departure from Little and the message here is ‘Don’t hinder Jacinda.’
   Peter Dunne’s decision not to stand in Ōhāriu means that the United Future party is at an end. It’s a shame, because I have always got on with Peter, and he has been generous to me with his time, more so than my own MP. Similarly, the Greens’ James Shaw I count as a friend of over seven years, but the Turei scandal has left the party hurt, even if its policies remain on track. The signage has been appallingly dull, bereft of imagination, even if James’s performance in a recent Nation debate clearly marks him out as the intellectual, aware of global trends. If we want a globalist (or at least a globally aware MP) in Parliament, then we could do far worse than ensuring the Greens get in above the 5 per cent threshold. Strategically, a party that has its origins in the environment (even if that message hasn’t been hammered home of late) makes sense, as I believe we need to protect ours desperately. Vote Compass says I’ve most in common with the Greens this time out, and Toby Morris makes a good point with his latest cartoon.
   The Opportunities Party has some good points—I’m in favour of closing tax loopholes for foreign companies operating on our shores—and its leader, Gareth Morgan, who normally comes across as lacking the common touch, did well in the debate, at least when he had something to say. I’ve followed Morgan on Twitter for some time, long before this political foray, and often liked what he had to say. However, at either website TOP and I don’t have that much in common.
   The Māori Party, as my supposed second choice based on On the Fence (at least the first time out a few weeks ago), could have received my vote after Peter decided not to stand, but Marama Fox’s performance in the above debate didn’t impress me, even if she impressed all the talking heads in the studio. It goes to show how different things are in person. Fox has passion and fire, but didn’t have the figures to back up her policies—and I know from having been on the podium with my opponents that you should have them, and your researchers should have at least come up with an estimate. I don’t know where Mana sits; I had a far better idea when Kim Dotcom was involved.
   New Zealand First, helmed by the Rt Hon Winston Peters, the most establishment of all the politicians who successfully carries on an antiestablishment message, has signage up with Peters’ face and the words ‘Had enough?’ On that note I find accord with New Zealand First’s message. I have had enough of Winston Peters, and I answer their advertisement in the affirmative. But I shan’t be voting for them.

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Posted in marketing, New Zealand, politics | 2 Comments »


How I answered Facebook Business’s survey

29.08.2017

Facebook sent me a survey as one of our businesses has bought advertising with them. I’ve detailed my responses below, with a few notes. I’ve included Instagram in this, since their own advertising platform allows us to reach that.

What is the most important thing that Facebook can do to improve your advertising experience?
Some years ago, Facebook intentionally wrecked the sharing, so post sharing dropped 90 per cent. We all know why: the profit motive. Allowing a slight return to the higher levels would be useful because we know those shares were genuine. I’d be happy to supplement those with a buy; right now I dislike having to fork out so much. You made plenty off us, it’s time to give regular customers a bit of a break.

What do you most value about advertising on Facebook relative to advertising with other digital platforms?
Nothing much, actually. You claim to have all these stats on people but I know from my own ad preferences that you are wrong on a lot of things (probably 40 per cent) about me. Even though I have opted out, you continue to collect preferences. How do I know I am advertising to people who want it? Also, I cannot change my location on Instagram (apparently you guys don’t know where New York is) through any platform, so all the ads there are irrelevant to me. I see complete disadvantages about your platforms. We only buy with you in the hope that some of the advertising is targeted but we know full well that we’ll be annoying part of the group you reach.

   I tried feeding in New York only after Auckland (where I had travelled to earlier this month) wasn’t recognized by the app and I kept getting Wellington ads. It’s probably not that big a surprise since some years ago, Facebook had no idea where Paris (I specifically mean the French one, as I’m sure most of you know) was. And Google didn’t know where the White House was last decade, so American companies not knowing the location of American cities and landmarks shouldn’t be a surprise, either. Remember, Facebook once thought all of its hundreds of millions of users lived on the US west coast in 2011 and the site would stop working for people outside their own time zone on the 1st of each month. They really are quite insular, and it’s a surprise they even cared about getting the opinion of a customer in New Zealand, since I doubt they know where we are.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | No Comments »


Give nothing to racism

18.06.2017

What an honour it was to appear as one of the first batch of people in the Human Rights’ Commission’s Give Nothing to Racism campaign. Taika Waititi, New Zealander of the Year (and a Lucire feature interviewee from way back) introduced the campaign with a hilarious video, and it was an honour to be considered alongside my old classmate Karl Urban, and other famous people such as Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Neill, Neil Finn, Lucy Lawless, and Hollie Smith. Somewhere along the line the Commission decided it would get some non-celebs like me.
   The idea is that racism propagates through each of us. Laughing along with a joke. Letting casual racism in social media comments carry on. Excusing racist behaviour. Or simply accepting it as “the way it is”. There’s no place for it in 2017, certainly not in this country, and for those who seek to indulge in it (I’m looking at certain people in politics and the media in particular), you’re simply covering up the fact you’ve very little of substance to offer. I #givenothingtoracism.

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Posted in culture, media, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Online publishing: how the players we dealt with changed in 2016

12.01.2017


Above: Brave Bison’s predecessor, Rightster, left much to be desired in how it dealt with publishers, while investment commentators had concerns, too.

Twenty-sixteen had some strange developments on the publishing front.
   First, we noticed Alexa rankings for a lot of sites changed. Facebook itself went from second to third, where it has stayed. Our own sites dropped as well, across the board, even though our own stats showed that traffic was pretty much where it was. In Autocade’s case, it was rising quickly.
   We checked, and Alexa had announced that it had increased its panel again in 2016. There was an announcement about this in 2014, but things improved even more greatly during the last Gregorian calendar year, specifically in April. (April 2016, it seems, was a huge month of change: read on.) This means Alexa began sampling more people to get a more accurate picture. Given that Facebook fell as well as us, then we drew the conclusion that the new panel must include audiences in China and other non-Anglophone places. It makes sense: Alexa is a global service and should take global data points. Never mind that we’ve suffered as a result, we actually agree with this approach. And we’re taking steps in 2017 to look at capturing extra traffic with our content.
   Alexa, when we approached them, said it could not comment about the origins of the panellists. Again, fair enough. We’ve made an educated guess and will work accordingly.
   Secondly, there were two ad networks whose advertising disappeared off our sites. The first, Gorilla Nation, started dropping off long before 2016. In 2015, we asked why and were asked to fill out some form relating to Google ads. Anyone who’s followed this blog will know why that was unpalatable to us—and we want to make sure our readers don’t fall victim to Google’s snooping, either. I’m not saying that Google ads don’t appear at all—it’s the largest advertising network in the world, and its tentacles are everywhere—but if I can avoid opening our properties up to Google willingly, then I’ll do so.
   It’s a shame because we’ve worked exceedingly well with Gorilla Nation and found them very professional.
   We have, sadly, entered an era where—as found by my friend and colleague Bill Shepherd—online advertising is controlled by a duopoly. In The New York Times, April 18, 2016 (italics added): ‘Advertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst.’ I don’t think this is fair, as they’re not the ones generating the content. Google has also managed to game services like Adblock Plus: they’ve paid for their ads not to be blocked. (Better has more information on why certain ad blockers are ineffective.) It’s not difficult to see why native advertising has increased, and this is generally more favourable to the publisher. In 2017, it’s time to build up the advertising side again: two years ago we already saw quarters where online overtook print in terms of ad revenue.
   Burst Media’s ads also disappeared, and we had been working with them since 1998. Now called Rhythm One, they responded, ‘We recently migrated to a new platform and your account was flagged by an automated process as part of that. All that being said—we can absolutely get you live again.’ That was April. I added one of their team to Skype, as requested, but we never connected—the helpful staff member wasn’t around when I called in. Again, a bit of a shame. As I wrote this blog post, I sent another message just to see if we could deal with the matter via email rather than real-time on Skype.
   At least this wasn’t a unilateral cessation of a business arrangement, which Rightster sprung on us without notice in April. Rightster’s Christos Constantinou wrote, ‘It is with regret that we inform you that from yesterday we ceased providing video content services to your account.’ This wasn’t the first change Rightster sprung on us—its code had changed in the past, leaving big gaps in our online layouts—and soon after, everyone there clammed up, despite an initial email from another Rightster staffer that feigned surprise at what had happened. Mr Constantinou never picked up phone calls made since that point, and we couldn’t get an answer out of them. No breaches of their terms and conditions were ever made by us.
   We were only interested in a small handful of their video sources anyway, all of whom exist on other platforms, so one would have thought that it was to Rightster’s advantage to continue working with a well respected brand (Lucire). A bit of digging discovered that the firm was not in good shape: a pre-tax loss in the first half of 2015 of £11·5 million, with shares trading in October of that year at 10·50p per share, down from its float price of 60p. That year, it was forecast by Share Prophets that things would only get worse for the firm, and they were proved right within months. Not long after ceasing to work with us (and presumably others), Rightster became Brave Bison Group, restructured, and became a ‘social video broadcaster’, but it was still burning cash (to the tune of £1·3 million, according to the same website in July 2016).
   Gorilla Nation and Burst’s slots have largely been replaced by other networks as well as ads secured in-house, while Rightster effectively did us a favour, though its opaqueness didn’t help. In fact, when they didn’t answer questions, it was only natural to surf online to investigate what was going on. Initially, there was some negative stuff about Burst, though my concerns were put to rest when they emailed me back. With Rightster, there was no such solace: finding all the news about the firm being a lemon confirmed to me that we were actually very lucky to have them farewell us.
   We revived an old player that we used, through Springboard, itself linked to Gorilla Nation, so we’re still serving advertising from them, just in a different form. Video content has not vanished from the Lucire sites, for those who are interested in it.
   How a company behaves can be linked to how well it ultimately performs, and what it’s worth. Given our treatment by Rightster, it wasn’t that surprising to learn that something was rotten in Denmark (or London). Maybe that first staff member was genuinely surprised, with employees not being told about their company running out of money. And unless things have truly changed within, it could well continue to function dysfunctionally, which will give those AIM columnists more ammunition.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


Facebook’s ad targeting: evidence now filed with the Better Business Bureau

04.12.2016


As of today, I’ve sent off my evidence to the US Better Business Bureau so they can continue their investigation of Facebook. The DAA was too gutless to investigate but the BBB, by contrast, gives a damn.
   Let me note here that I have nothing against Facebook making a buck. I just ask that it do so honestly, that it does what it says.
   Facebook claims that you can opt out of targeted advertising, and that you can edit your preferences for that targeting, the same was what Google did in 2011. It was revealed then that Google lied, and the Network Advertising Initiative was able to follow up my findings and assured me it would work with them to sort their procedures out.
   If you opt out of targeting, Facebook continues to gather information on you. The BBB noted to me in April that if I could show that Facebook was targeting based on personal information I did not provide (e.g. if you fed in a fake location as your home in Facebook and it serves you ads based on your real location), then it could be a violation of their principles. This is pretty easy to prove: just go to any ad in your feed, click on the arrow in the right-hand corner, and click ‘Why was I shown this ad?’ In most cases, your actual location will have something to do with it.
   Secondly, there is a potential link between the preferences Facebook has stored on you—the ones they say they would not use—and the ads you are shown. Facebook claims you can edit those preferences but as I showed last week, this is not true. Facebook will, in fact, repopulate all deleted preferences (and even add to them), but thanks to the company itself providing me with the smoking gun, I was able to connect those shown preferences with ads displayed between March and December 2016. It casts doubt on whether Facebook is actually targeting me based on freely given information, especially since, for example, I am being served ads for Oh Baby! when I don’t have kids. (Oh Baby!, meanwhile, is one of the preferences in its settings.)
   My Google investigation took three months; this took between eight and nine.
   We’ll see if the BBB will take quite as long—they might, because they say they tend to be inundated with complaints about Facebook, but find that most cases do not violate their principles. But I’ve shown them not only examples along the lines of what they suggested, but a few that go even further.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


RTL orders Blitzkrieg on Alarm für Cobra 11 fan community prior to the show’s 20th anniversary

10.03.2016

With the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the German TV show Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei, a fan group I run—the largest unofficial community on Facebook for the series—has been the subject of a Blitzkrieg by RTL. Trailers, which made up the majority of the uploaded videos, are indeed copyrighted material, but have resided happily there since 2008. But in their determination to have every video cleansed from Facebook, individual members’ copyrighted material, as well as videos that do not even belong to RTL, have been the subject of their claims.
   As someone who is usually on the complainant’s side in DMCA cases, I have a lot of sympathy for their position—but I’ve never gone to a website to lay claim to material that isn’t ours. You would think that a company as well resourced as RTL would be able to tell the difference, if a far smaller firm like ours can, but it appears there are keyboard warriors even in the largest TV networks. A reply, therefore, is needed, and it’s going to be a nice weekend sans Facebook, where I have been barred for three days without their usual counterclaim procedure operating. Luckily, I had set up a back-door account to administer pages and groups, after Facebook’s anti-malware malware incident, which is practically all I do there these days anyway.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today we note that all videos uploaded to the largest Facebook group about the TV series Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei (https://www.facebook.com/groups/autobahnpolizei/) have been the subject of complaints by you, causing them all to be removed.
   We acknowledge that some of these videos contain content from Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland and Action Concept. They have resided there since 2008 without a single complaint, and the overwhelming majority (over 90 per cent) are trailers that you have permitted not only on this group, but all fan groups.
   Our group is non-profit and promotional in nature. Contractors to and employees of RTL and Action-Concept have happily been members for years, so it is clearly known to your organization.
   You have also permitted fan edits to your material on YouTube for years, where derivative works have been created and reside.
   Derivative works include subtitled, reworked Bulgarian translations to your trailers by Mr Hristian Martinov that feature new graphics, fan edits by Herr Thorsten Markus Grützmacher featuring the history of the series, and fan videos by Herr Stefan Wilke made in 2002 and 2004. Given RTL’s own stance on these elsewhere, principally on YouTube, there is an appalling double standard that you have applied to this Facebook group.
   We acknowledge that on a strict legal interpretation, some of these can be subject to your copyright claims and, had we been approached privately, we would have removed them. However, we are deeply concerned over content that Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland falsely and deceptively laid claim to, and is no concern of yours.
   You have stated to Facebook that these are videos that you or your organization created. In the cases detailed below, this is not true.
   We have two reporting numbers provided to us by Facebook, 1687808734841713 and 235243696819825, although numerous others relating to this group apply.
   Among those are videos that you have falsely and deceptively laid claim to include those shot by individual members on set on visits to Action Concept, videos shot privately by Herr Grützmacher while he was contracted to Action Concept, advertisements made by Kia Motors Deutschland GmbH which feature Alarm für Cobra 11 characters, news articles covering Alarm für Cobra 11 that are not owned by RTL but by their respective news networks, and an advertisement for Daimler AG that has no connection whatsoever to Alarm für Cobra 11, Action-Concept, or RTL.
   Please be advised that Facebook operates on US copyright law, which the above items do not fall foul of as they relate to RTL; even if they do, they are outside the scope of copyrighted material that you have any authority to file complaints about. The notion of German moral rights in copyright do not apply in the United States in this respect.
   Your actions have caused accounts to be disabled and while this may be warranted in the cases that concern RTL material, it is not warranted in cases where you have made false claims to Facebook. Your statements are not only inaccurate in these cases, they are also defamatory in nature and we consider them libellous.
   We are prepared to vigorously defend our position.
   Nevertheless, we are reasonable, and we propose a fair solution. As there is no way to compile every reporting number over eight years of material that has vanished in the space of 24 hours, we request that all the material you have reported on this group to be reinstated in full. Once that is done, the group’s moderators work alongside you to remove, individually, only the content that belongs to you. Reinstatement should occur within a week of this email, while removal of all RTL trailers, promotional material, and direct clips from the show—the last of which are indisputably RTL copyrighted material—will be done over the following week.
   Facebook notes that you are under no obligation to respond. Please be advised that this message will be openly published, and will also be sent to you as hard copy, with other parties cced.

Yours faithfully,

Jack Yan, LL B, BCA (Hons.), MCA

ccs for Action Concept and Facebook, under separate cover

   What an innovative way to generate goodwill for a TV series in the days before the network kicks off its 20th anniversary tributes (on March 12).

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Posted in business, internet, TV | 1 Comment »


Your preferences mean nothing: Facebook still profiles you, even after you switch off interest-based ads

15.02.2016

A few years ago, I discovered that Google was monitoring and gathering user preferences even after one had opted out. Google would initially put an opt-out cookie that went with your browser when you first opt out, which is exactly what every other ad network does—but, then, within 24 hours, it would replace it with its standard cookie and begin tracking you again. It counted on people not returning to their ad preferences page, and the ploy may have worked for some two years before I discovered it, and reported it to the Network Advertising Initiative, who confirmed the error.
   The NAI says that Google has remedied that, and I trust that it has. It didn’t stop Google from hacking Iphone users the following year, circumventing the ‘Do not track’ feature on the Safari browser, till they got busted by the Murdoch Press.
   It seems these big Silicon Valley firms think they are a law unto themselves, as is evidenced by their approach to taxation, for instance, and it appears Facebook is now doing the same thing as Google when it comes to getting advertising preferences on you. In their world, user preferences are something to be spat on, not observed.
   Facebook has often switched things on in its user preferences that you had switched off earlier, but I don’t remember them having touched those settings for a few years. But a leopard doesn’t change its spots. Recently, I discovered that Facebook had indeed turned on my advertising preference tracking, under ‘Ads based on my use of websites and apps’. I had it set to ‘No’; a month ago, I discovered this was set to ‘Yes’.
   I promptly switched it off, but had discovered that Facebook had compiled quite the dossier on me on January 20. Had I agreed to it, this would have been fine; and I use Facebook’s targeting myself from time to time marketing to users that I believe have agreed to be tracked and marketed to.


Above: Facebook compiled a big dossier on my preferences for its ad targeting, though when you open it up, there are entries that bear no resemblance to what I like.

   However, there are two worrying points here. The obvious one is Facebook disrespecting user preferences and collecting data on us—and there has been plenty of debate on just where those data go thanks to Mr Snowden. Secondly, for marketers, the data that Facebook has gathered are, to some degree, laughable.
   As I reviewed and deleted I discovered things in there that I had no interest in whatsoever. In the time that Facebook had gathered data on me, it had supposedly built up a profile on me that was made up of over 1,000 points (above is the summary, though I have expanded this out to have a good read). I found, in my profile, that I was supposedly into search engine marketing, Westpac, dentistry, NASSCOM (not sure what this is), radar, cosmetology, unmanned aerial vehicles, ClickZ, Marabou (chocolate), miniskirts, high-heeled footwear (yes, I can understand that publishing a fashion magazine might have added these), National Basketball Association, the Houston Astres (who?), Leicester City FC, TNA Knockout, the Australia national rugby union team (fortunately, the All Blacks were accurately recorded), World Tag Team Championship (WWE), and the Authority (professional wrestling); I discovered that Facebook thinks Occupy Wall Street is a ‘Religious Center’. Now, some of these will have come from websites I may have browsed at, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to my liking these things: what if you had browsed an article about the arrest of a child molester? Don’t ask me where the Aussie rugby and wrestling come from, as I don’t visit their sites or even news articles about either.
   I spent considerable time deleting all of them, doing myself and Facebook a favour. Naturally, I switched off the tracking.


Above: My ad preference tracking is switched off. End of story? Unfortunately, not: Facebook doesn’t care what you’ve put in here.

   I do think it is positive that Facebook reveals this, as it could have kept our preferences hidden, as it has done for years. It is only right that consumers are given a choice.
   However, where are the ethics to continue doing it after a user has switched it off?
   Because that’s exactly what Facebook does, and, like Google, you can’t pretend to me that these are all accidents. These are companies that believe they can do whatever they like, and intentionally have created systems to do so.
   Interestingly, when I approached the US DMA about this data-gathering on January 22, I received no response, unlike the NAI, which got back to me after I furnished proof of Google’s activities. At that point I had not told them who was doing it, I simply asked them what its position was, with its code of conduct, if a member were to gather data on a person even after that person had opted out.
   Within two days, Facebook had built up a new profile about me, of just over 100 items. I checked with the DAA, which has a website where you can see if the opt-out cookies are present, and it confirmed that Facebook’s was. It seems, then, that Facebook does not honour its own opt-out cookie, exactly the same as Google. Whether it uses this data or not is immaterial: it shouldn’t be gathering them for the duration of the time I choose to be opted out. I haven’t approached the DAA yet, but I will do after I get everything together.
   The items, incidentally, were still laughable; even more so, because of the smaller number. By the 24th, I was apparently a fan of Bandcamp and the company Excite (remember them?), but to my recollection I had not visited any site about either. And the next day there were a few dozen data points, where apparently I liked B movies, Berlin (the band), the immune system, the MG ZR, Frank de Boer, Gracia Baur, sandals, Presbyterianism, the Mandarin language, and Trinidad and Tobago. Again, where this all came from, I have little clue.



Top: Within two days, Facebook had a number of points about me, despite my having chosen to have its advertising-preference tracking switched off. It’s Google all over again. Above: The DAA confirms that Facebook’s opt-out cookie is present, although as I’ve discovered, it makes no difference.

   And so on. Every few days I’d go in there, have a peek, and have a laugh, and noted that my tracking preference was still set to ‘Off’.
   I have accused Facebook of arrogance and this is yet another example. I’ve also accused them of incompetence.
   You’ll have got to this point wondering why I still use it if I dislike the tracking. For a start, I shouldn’t have to put up with user preferences being ignored, if the setting has been provided, and if Facebook itself has been notified (I have contacted them). And as long as I have an account, which, unfortunately I need to administer business pages and groups, the tracking will continue, even if I do not use any features for my personal Timeline. (In fact, I hardly do any more; to the point where Facebook always has, in my feed, a top post showing me what I did x years ago when I log in; reminding me, ‘Gosh, didn’t we have it good together?’ liked a jilted lover.) By my own choice, I use Facebook’s messaging a lot (but not its app) and some very close friends contact me exclusively through that, and I’m going to have to continue there, too, because there is some utility. I also realize the irony of having a “like” button on this blog.

   In other words, I’ve minimized my activity with the site where I realistically can, and right now I don’t care if I can no longer like, post, share or comment, which was becoming a very, very regular bug with Facebook anyway. (It’s now getting more commonplace, as other friends begin getting the same symptoms with increasing frequency; it seems I hit the point before they did.)
   Like with Google, whose privacy gaffes saw me minimize my contact with them, I’ve de-Facebooked where I can; and I accept I can go further (e.g. regular logging out and cookie-blocking). I’ll see where things go after I contact the DAA.

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Trump a creation of the media, not of ad spends

11.12.2015

This is by no means a blog post in favour of the Republican poll front-runner, although this graphic from Vox (not the old Vox that I used to be on) was very interesting:

   When I ran for office in 2010 and 2013, I tried to mount campaigns that were the most effective per dollar spent. If you can’t practise it in your own campaign, you sure as heck can’t practise it when in office. J. E. Bush’s massive spend is exactly what you don’t want to see for the numbers he’s getting.
   And unlike the “polls” here in those two local body elections, which had no resemblance to the voters’ reality (got to love sextupling your poll numbers), I trust the Vox one is more accurate, being an aggregate of many US polls with large samples.
   The sad thing we can take from the numbers above is that celebrity seems to trump (pun unintended) all else. For those complaining about where all the moderate Muslim voices are when extremists speak out, have a look at this. Where are the moderate Republican voices? Outside the US, we don’t hear any in the mainstream media: the US political coverage has been Trump, Trump and more Trump. Extremism gets sensationalist headlines, and sensationalism sells in a headline culture, whether you’re Stateside or here. Similarly, peaceful Muslims just don’t fit the narrative, as this article in The Independent highlights. American legal experts who say that Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the country is unconstitutional because it violates their First and Fifth Amendments have parallels with Muslim leaders who say their faith is one of peace, practised peacefully by thousands of millions. They reflect the majority view, but rationality doesn’t sell the nightly news.
   No wonder some have called for the media not to give terrorists coverage, and their argument must similarly apply to all forms of extremism.
   I don’t know in which media the million-dollar club is spending in, but these numbers might also show that conventional above-the-line advertising can’t work without complementary below-the-line activity. Trump engagement—for and against—must be pretty good on Twitter, if my own Tweetstream is anything to go by, and that gets his name out more. The man has five million followers on Twitter and, for all the predictions about doom and gloom for the social network, it seems there’s life in it yet.
   At least it stays up an awful lot more than Facebook.
   At this point in 2007, Clinton had a 20-point lead over Obama, and four years before that, when his campaign was trying to buy advertising on our sites, the likely Democratic candidate was a pre-‘I have a scream’ Howard Dean. We really don’t know how this is all going to pan out, because on the other hand, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were leading at this point in 1979 and 1999 respectively.
   MSNBC has done the only poll I’ve seen where they’ve put the likely Democratic candidate this time—which appears to be Clinton, who has spent large—against potential Republican ones. Interestingly, only Carson comes closest to her if he became the Republican nominee; but the question among moderate conservatives and liberals must be how Trump still manages 41 against her 52 (below). Either these numbers will not be borne out at the polls should these two face off against each other, or the answer is simpler than we think: the US political media will talk up a creation of the US political media. They don’t want to be proven wrong, because otherwise they risk losing their perceived authority.

   What we do know, unless Sanders gets up there through his populist campaign, is that regardless of the outcome, the United States will swear in another right-wing president on January 20, 2017.

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Posted in culture, internet, marketing, media, politics, USA | 1 Comment »


How many Facebook bots do you see in an evening? I count over 250

09.10.2014

Last month, I Tweeted Facebook, asking them to raise the reporting limit for bots. Right now, you can report around 40 bot accounts before a warning box comes up asking you to slow down. If you do another 10, you are barred from reporting any more for 24 hours—even though you are trying to help Facebook clean up its act.
   I said that the rate of increase in bot accounts was exponential, and that raising the limit to 200 immediately might be useful.
   Tonight, the 200 barrier has been broken. In other words, in one evening, not counting click farms (which are also hitting our groups like crazy, with a growing number from Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Tunisia daily), I came across 277 bot accounts on Facebook. All because I have a few groups and I was checking to see who was joining.
   And here I was, thinking that over the last few weeks, when I was seeing a maximum of six daily, that Facebook had this problem under control.
   Obviously, the bot nets found a way through whatever defences Facebook had.
   I won’t republish the list of 277 here. There might be slightly fewer as there could be doubling-up in my list—you can lose your place at night copying and pasting. If you do want to have a peek at what bot accounts look like, the second part of the list at my Tumblr blog will give you an idea. And if you’d like to report them, you’re most welcome to—though since it’s neither your job nor mine, I wonder why we should bother. Facebook loves to brag about its numbers of how many people it has using the site. If in order to fool advertisers it shows a quarter-on-quarter increase by counting the bots, then maybe we should let it be, and eventually let the site fall over (and let’s face it, the frequency of that happening has increased, too).
   All of which point to a website that is becoming less and less useful as a marketing tool—no wonder the likes of Ello saw an increase in usage in the last few weeks.

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